How to Get Your Rental Security Deposit Back
Are you renting a new apartment? Now’s the time to think about getting your deposit back. Don’t let the excitement of apartment or house hunting distract you from keeping that sometimes big security deposit in mind. It’s best to listen to that little voice in your ear and make sure you understand what your deposit is for and how you can get as much back as possible when you move out.
Understand Your Rental Agreement
Entering into a new renter agreement starts with understanding and signing the lease for your new apartment. Both you and the apartment owner (maybe through their manager) have something at stake, so you both agree to certain conditions in a written contract. The security deposit you pay will help the owner cover the cost of repairing any damage you might do, and could cover regular costs like cleaning the apartment when you leave. That’s why it’s important for you to read and understand the security deposit section of your lease.
When you read the lease, make note of anything that is not allowed that may cause you to lose your deposit. This may include things beyond holes in the wall, such as if you abandon your apartment before the end of the lease term, fail to pay the rent, or even just if you leave junk behind that the owner has to clear out. There may be a list of modifications to your apartment that are not allowed, like cutting a hole in the wall to add bookshelves or an entertainment center. It may include painting the walls bright green, or nailing a hook for your giant parrot’s cage to the living room ceiling.
If you can adhere to the rules around what’s not allowed, you’ve got a good starting point for getting your deposit back.
What about “Wear and Tear”?
However, the most common complaint among renters concerning the return of a security deposit is agreeing what constitutes normal and expected wear-and-tear of apartment interiors. This is the most common reason that deposits are withheld. If your agreement doesn’t spell these conditions out clearly, you’ll want to dig deeper and get that information clarified so you can maximize your refund at the end of the lease.
If the terms are pretty clear that, unless you can turn back time, “normal wear and tear” means the landlord intends to keep some or all of the deposit, you’ll need to factor that fee into your monthly rent (for a one year lease, divide the deposit by 12 and add that amount to the monthly rent) to see if this apartment is still within your budget. If not, it may be best to move on and find something more affordable.
Some Things to Remember About Getting Your Deposit Back
In order to maximize your deposit refund, start by asking questions during the signing of your lease. If it includes a “normal wear-and-tear” close, get a clear understanding in writing of what condition management expects you to leave the apartment in. Here are some tips to help you adhere to rental laws and protect your security deposit:
- Check the lease for costs that will be deducted from your security deposit. These include general cleaning, cleaning exceptions (oven, stovetop, refrigerator, carpet, bathroom tub and tile). Discuss the option that will allow you, the tenant, to not only leave the apartment generally clean but also the appliances, floors, and walls – in order to eliminate the cleaning cost deductions.
- Good management will inspect the apartment in your presence prior to your move-in. Take pictures and share with the landlord any less-than-perfect conditions and especially any non-working or damaged items. The best situation is not to move into an apartment with pre-existing damage. But if you do, take pictures and have the conditions noted within the lease.
- If after moving in, if you discover hidden damage or non-working appliances, report it to management immediately. Also keep records of damage that occurs during normal living, such as peeling paint in the bathrooms or appliances that fail to operate from normal usage. If you decide to fix-up problems yourself, always get permission and always keep a record along with receipts.
Maximize your Security Deposit Refund
In any rental agreement, the tenant bears the brunt of the responsibility for getting the maximum amount of the security deposit back. If you have pets or children, you’ll want to make a special effort to maintain the condition of the apartment. Here are some tips to ensure you get the maximum amount of your security deposit back when you decide to move:
- Keep the apartment clean throughout your lease period. Immediately remove stains from carpet, walls, and countertops. Regularly vacuum the carpet, spot clean when needed, clean inside windows and blinds, and keep hard floors mopped and scuff-free.
- Immediately report any incidental damage that occurs for quick repair from the maintenance staff. Appliances and fixtures will break – and good management will respond with service or replacement.
- If you disagree with the amount the landlord is offering to return, ask for an itemized list of deposit deductions. You may have a case for rebuttal if you can prove made-up charges. Respectable management firms will reconsider overcharges when you state your case in a calm and professional manner.
Moving to a new apartment can be a stressful time. take time to consider your options. If an apartment doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And, if you don’t feel comfortable with the landlord or the agreement, then just keep looking. Eventually you will find the right place and feel more in control of your security deposit funds and your living situation.
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